The last remaining green space in Tysons Corner will stay green. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to eliminate a proposed big fat road through the middle of Old Courthouse Spring Branch park, which could have linked the Dulles Toll Road to the future street grid in the future Tysons City.
A coalition of 15 neighborhood groups formed “Save Tysons’ Last Forest” back in the spring, when they learned that transportation planners were considering a ramp from the toll road to an extended Boone Boulevard. The 33-acre forest has a stream running through it which winds all the way to the Potomac River, and serves as a floodplain. It functions as a buffer between the commerce of Leesburg Pike and various Vienna communities, as well as a recreational spot for hikers, walkers and dogs.
The Fairfax supervisors, in particular Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and Chair Sharon Bulova (D), heard from the Vienna neighbors at length and passed a resolution in November urging county staff to take “Preferred Option 3” off the table. On Tuesday, Fairfax transportation planner Seyed Nabavi told the board that Option 3 “will be eliminated,”and transportation director Tom Biesiadny said, “the other options provide almost as much benefit with lower impact and lower cost.”
And that was it. The board continued on with other Tysons-related discussion, so there was no wild shouting or jumping up and down. But at a break, the pro-trees group went up to thank the supervisors, and “they complimented us,” said Pamela Konde, president of the Save Tysons Forest coalition. “They said you are great civic activists. It was warm fuzzies all around. It was fabulous.”
Konde said Wednesday that the idea of a road through the forest, which is actually two parks (Old Courthouse Spring Branch and Raglan Road), first cropped up in 2010, but residents were assured that it wouldn’t happen. Then, in 2012, there it was: Preferred Option 3, as one of several ways to funnel toll road traffic into Tysons in addition to the current interchange at Route 7.
“They were going to put a four-lane highway ramp directly through parkland protected by covenants, stormwater management” and various other environmental rules, “because it was the easiest, most expedient thing to do,” Konde said.
[NOTE: Fairfax senior park planner Andrea Doriester said Thursday that Scotts Run Community Park, in the Pimmit Hills section of Falls Church, also is preserved green space in Tysons Corner. I said it seemed a little far away, but she noted it is within the Tysons plan and not far from the proposed Capital One expansion, so it deserves mentioning as a second green space in Tysons.]
Konde thinks the turning point was when “we got 300 people in the [Westbriar Elementary School] cafeteria for a transportation community meeting. It changed the entire dynamic on that one day.” County planners and Hudgins were there, and Konde thinks the show of community passion got their attention.
Hudgins told me that night that she was only there to listen. And she did. Other supervisors agreed to meet with the Save Tysons Forest group even though the park wasn’t in their district. “It became the no-brainer that Cathy Hudgins had been talking about,” Konde said. “It should never have become a preferred option.”
Now, as a result of this episode, many Vienna area neighbors know each other and are ready to work together on future projects, such as improving the park and possibly fending off efforts to turn part of it into athletic fields. Lessons learned in organizing, researching and lobbying will be applied again down the road, Konde said.
“Fairfax County really is a great place,” she added, “with great governmentn that works through things, when given the time and opportunity.”
In the end, this is an encouraging story about how the process worked: Residents got involved, did their homework, chatted up the right politicians and saved at least one strip of nature from the bulldozers. The politicians did their part, it should be noted. But the Lorax — the Vienna community — spoke for the trees. And won.